Nelson Mandela Has Departed: In Memoriam

Nelson Mandela died yesterday. The world was a better place for him having been in it.

I can’t recount all of his accomplishments here, and others will do it better, but perhaps his greatest was forming the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as President of South Africa. This was after his 27-year imprisonment, of course, and after he was elected President during the nation’s first all-race elections.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was founded in order to help South Africa move on together from the violence, distrust, and shame of apartheid. The Commission investigated racial crimes on both sides, and did exactly what its title suggests: brought the truth out into the daylight in order to effect a reconciliation.

But reconciliation there wasn’t just one reconciliation; there were many: the reconciliation between blacks and whites, between a government and its citizens, between South Africa and the rest of the world, the reconciliation of a national identity that was not in support of basic human rights, and the reconciliation of individuals with their consciences. The Commission provides a blueprint for other countries divided against themselves.

William Kentridge is a South African artist whose work deals explicitly and implicitly with apartheid and especially reconciliation. He made drawings, photographed them, changed them, photographed them again, and then animated the sequence. The resulting films are sometimes cryptic but extremely moving. The erasures that are still evident on the page are haunting reminders of trying to move on. This film is called Felix in Exile.

In honor of Nelson Mandela.